SANTIAGO – Prisoners convicted for human rights abuses during the dictatorship will not be released from prison. Due to the coronavirus outbreak in Chile, prisoners over the age of 75 can opt for house arrest. This originally excluded human rights abusers, but President Piñera announced he will use his veto to include them.
President Piñera announced he would veto a bill that would allow any inmate with a COVID-19 risk factor to serve his or her sentence under house arrest, except convicted human rights abusers. “A person that was convicted of human right abuses that is dying, should have the benefit of dying in his home”, Piñera said.
The original bill, presented by the Minister of Justice Hernán Llaraín, was focused on protecting inmates who were considered to be vulnerable to COVID-19. Those who are to receive this option are senior citizens, pregnant women, and those with respiratory or cardiovascular diseases. The bill was modified and approved in the Senate, specifying that those responsible for human rights abuses during the Pinochet dictatorship will not be considered for house arrest.
In response to this modification, right wing senators from the Chile Vamos coalition presented a formal complaint to the Constitutional tribunal to get the bill declared unconstitutional and held a formal discussion with President Piñera. Although the complaint by Chile Vamos is still processed, Piñera announced after the pressure from his coalition he would veto the bill to include human rights abusers.
José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch supported Piñera’s decision, tweeting, “Completely agree. The opposite could be considered cruel and inhumane. But the benefit should be available to all inmates …”
Totalmente de acuerdo. Lo contrario podría constituir un trato cruel e inhumano. Sin embargo, los beneficios deberían aplicarse a todos los reos y contar con control judicial para comprobar el estado de salud y la racionalidad de la medida a la luz de los derechos de las víctimas pic.twitter.com/ag9j9wNu7D
— José Miguel Vivanco (@JMVivancoHRW) April 5, 2020
Maximiliano Murath, the lawyer who represents many of the inmates of Punta Peuco, said that this benefit won’t really help anyone. He said that of the 201 former soldiers who are currently in Punta Peuco, 80 of them are older than 75. He also said that many of the inmates are serving life in prison, making it impossible for them to have served half of their sentence.
The Progressive party said that they will present a complaint to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the event that the bill manages to pass with Piñera’s modifications.
Petition at the Court of Appeals
Religious groups got involved in the debate too, by filing a petition at the Court of Appeals. The petition spoke about inmates of Punta Peuco, the prison where those convicted of human rights abuses during the dictatorship are held. The filing demanded that some inmates of Punta Peuco, at least those who are over the age of 75 and have served half of their sentence, would be included in the bill. A coronavirus infection would be a death sentence for any of the 29 inmates with terminal conditions.
The petition was made by Alfred Cooper, a bishop of the Anglican Church; Fernando Montes, a Jesuit priest; Fernando Escudero, a pastoral assistant; and Ricardo Pereira, an Adventist pastor; it also included the expert opinion of a neurologist, Jorge Flefel. Nevertheless, the Court denied the petition, stating that, under article 21 of the current Chilean Constitution, the president of the republic is the only one who can decide who receives the benefits of house arrest.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.